A Northwoods Almanac for Oct. 26 – Nov. 8, 2018
A host of scheduling conflicts made it impossible for Mary and I to visit Duluth’s Hawk Ridge this fall, and we missed a good year! Their fall migration count as of 10/22 was 211,088 individual birds from 199 species. A breakdown of some of those numbers may be surprising: 17% (34,917) of the total were robins, 13% (26,455) were blue jays, 10% (20,503) were various species of warblers, and 5% (10,311) were cedar waxwings.
Within the raptors, broad-winged hawks, as always, have led the way with 8% (17,762) of the total. Sharp-shinned hawks are currently a distant second at 5% (11,122) of the total.
|kettle of hawks|
Some other notable numbers included 10,083 Canada geese, 10,051 purple finches, 8,918 common nighthawks, and 3,550 bald eagles. Another 19,276 songbirds were unidentifiable.
I’m always astonished at the accuracy of their species counts – this is truly difficult to do! But the counters are among the best in the country and have decades of experience conducting other counts all around the U.S. I’ve stood near them while they’re counting, and I can attest to their extraordinary skill.
I’ve touted the count at Hawk Ridge for many years, because it’s one of the two or three highest on the continent north of Mexico. From 1991 to 2013, the average yearly number of raptors observed at Hawk Ridge has been 76,000, comprised of 16 regular hawk species.
The large raptors like bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and northern goshawks are still coming through, so if you have the inclination, consider taking the drive – see www.hawkridge.orgfor directions and advice on when to visit.
Sightings – Tamaracks, Dark-eyed Juncos, Snow Buntings
Tamaracks have peaked in color. Aldo Leopold wrote in his Sand County Almanac, “There are two times to hunt [ruffed grouse] in Adams County: ordinary times, and when the tamaracks are smoky gold. This is written for those luckless ones who have never stood, gun empty and mouth agape, to watch the golden needles come sifting down, while the feathery rocket that knocked them off sails unscathed into the jackpines.”
One doesn’t need to hunt grouse in the Northwoods to experience those golden needles sifting down during a late October wind. Tamarack’s gold marks the last major light show of autumn. Nearly all of our deciduous trees have now cut their leaves loose, except for the oaks and ironwoods who just can’t seem to let go of their season’s work.
|tamaracks along DuPage Lake|
Dark-eyed juncos are omnipresent now in the north country as they work their way south. They are easily distinguished by their white tail feathers that scissor open and closed when they take flight. They’re super-common – the most recent estimate of their North American population is 630 million!
East of Mississippi River, female juncos tend to migrate farther south than males, but all adults migrate farther than hatching-year birds. This process, called differential migration, results in a general segregation of sex and age classes. For instance, since females migrate the furthest south, in Michigan only 20% of the wintering population will be female on average, while in Alabama, 72% of the total will typically be female.
The last passerines to migrate through our area are often snow buntings, and the first few of these birds are now being seen locally. Many snow buntings don’t even come this far south – their winter range extends as far north as some low arctic regions, and thus overlaps the southern limits of their breeding range. Those snow buntings desirous of the warmest winters only make it as far south as central Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Females appear to winter further south than males, demonstrating again while females may the wisest of the genders.
Snow buntings are a circumpolar species, meaning they breed worldwide all around the farthest high arctic regions from Greenland to Finland to Russia to far northern Canada. They often migrate in small loose flocks of up to 30 birds, so look for them in groups particularly in open weedy and grassy fields, along roadsides, and along shorelines. When they settle down for the winter, they seem to prefer winter farm fields where manure has been spread since undigested seeds can often be found in manure.
|photo by Cherie Smith|
Copper vs. Lead
I just read a piece written last fall by a deer hunter on why he uses copper bullets rather than lead. Here’s what he said: “As I hunted deer today, I sat within sight of the gut pile from the doe I killed two days ago. Much of it had been eaten already, but what remained was dined upon by two bald eagles, three ravens, two pileated woodpeckers, one hairy woodpecker, several blue jays, and numerous chickadees and nuthatches.
“Which is why I switched to copper bullets. Birds are highly susceptible to lead poisoning, and lead bullets fragment into tiny shards, some of which end up in the entrails we hunters leave behind after field dressing our deer. The tiniest amount of lead ingested by a bird can lead to a miserable slow death.
“As a hunter, I do everything I can to make a swift, humane end to my prey’s life. Why then would I want to cause other animals to linger in pain? No. Just as it is my responsibility to avoid needless suffering for those animals I hunt, I believe I owe the same ethic to those that scavenge the remains. Copper bullets are every bit as effective on deer, rarely disintegrate in the animal, and if they do, the fragments are non-toxic to birds.”
Carrol Henderson, a hunter and an educator with the Department of Natural Resources in Minnesota, sums it up nicely, “A good bullet should not kill twice.”
The copper vs lead debate has been going on for years, and I’m quite certain I’ll not end it in this column. However, if you work as a wildlife rehabber, like Mark Naniot at Wild Instincts near Rhinelander or Marge Gibson at Raptor Education group in Antigo, there’s nothing to debate. Marge notes, “Our costs to chelate birds from lead poisoning is massive, up to $2000 per eagle, and sadly we see many of them in the fall after hunting season begins.”
A study published in 2012 by University of Minnesota researchers investigated whether lead poisoning in bald eagles was connected to their consumption of lead-tainted deer remains. The study relied on data from 1,277 sick or injured bald eagles admitted to The Raptor Center between January 1996 and December 2009. Blood tests showed lethal levels of lead in 334 eagles.
I’m highly supportive of deer hunting, so I hope no one thinks this is an anti-hunting essay. I wish deer hunters all good fortune this fall. I’d simply love to see all hunters use copper bullets.
From NOAA: “With global records dating back to 1880, the September 2018 global temperature across the world's land and ocean surfaces was 0.78°C (1.40°F) above the 20th century average of 15.0°C (59.0°F) – tying with 2017 as the fourth highest September temperature in the 139-year record. The ten warmest September global land and ocean surface temperatures have occurred since 2003, with the last five years (2014–2018) comprising the five warmest Septembers on record. September 2015 is the record warmest September at +0.93°C (+1.67°F). September 2018 also marks the 42nd consecutive September and the 405th consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th century average (see https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201809).”
On the other hand, October temperatures, at least in our region, have clearly been below normal.
Please remember the difference, however, between weather on any given day/week and climate data recorded over many years. A colder than normal day, or a warmer than normal day for that matter, is irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.
I liken it to human health. You can be ill for a few days, but your overall health can be excellent. Conversely, you can feel fine for months, but you may be seriously declining in health due to a long-term disease.
Sports analogies work well, too. I can go 0 for 4 batting today or 4 for 4, but the impact on my batting average over the entire year will be miniscule.
So, it will be interesting to see what temperatures were recorded in October around the globe as compared to our cold experience in northern Wisconsin.
And wouldn’t you know, the long-term forecast for our area calls for above average temperatures in November. We’ll see if we end up with what seems like a reversal of normal conditions for these two months.
For viewing of planets in November, look after dusk for Mars in the south and Saturn low in the southwest. Before dawn, look for Venus very low in the southeast.
November 3rdbrings us just 10 hours of daylight as we continue to race toward winter solstice. Look for the peak south Taurid meteor shower before dawn on 11/5. The midpoint between autumn equinox and winter solstice occurs on 11/7, as does this month’s new moon.
Thought for the week
Last Saturday, 10/20, provided us with our first accumulating snow. We often get a snow or two in October, which typically melts soon afterwards as this snow did. It’s always interesting, however, to hear the various responses to the snow, each of which vary widely from sheer panic or disgust to superlatives regarding the beauty of it all. Since our response to any natural event is always a personal choice, I’ve come to appreciate the following quote: “If you choose not to find joy in the snow, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of snow.”